David Fincher’s decade-long passion project has just been released. Adapted from a screenplay written by his father in 1990, Mank tells the controversial story of the writing process of a film often regarded as “the greatest of all time.”
The title refers not to a citizen of Manchester, but to screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz. Alcoholic, unreliable and an indisputable genius, the man is responsible for one of the most important screenplays of all time, “American.” In 1940, over a ten week period, Mank, played by the great Gary Oldman, wrote the 266-page script that would go on to become a film that was revolutionary, iconic and like nothing else before it.
This film was called Citizen Kane. Over the years, the question of who wrote Citizen Kane has been a subject of constant debate. Many claim that Orson Welles was completely responsible for it, while others claim it was all down to Herman Makiewicz, and Welles viciously stole it from him. Mank tells the latter story. This makes it an unconventional biopic in that it tells one side of a widely disputed story.
Although the story may well be true, my problem is that it lacks any form of indication of the undependability of its sources. Many will be watching Mank with little or no previous knowledge of the story, so it’s unlikely that most people are going to doubt the information they are given. There’s no unreliable narrator (The Usual Suspects, The Wolf of Wall Street) nor are there any alternative perspectives of the story, (“the Rashomon effect.”) and something like this could have indicated to the viewer that they aren’t necessarily learning the absolute, indisputable facts.
However, as I mentioned before, that’s not to say the story isn’t accurate. The idea that Mankiewicz was responsible for the script was first introduced by Pauline Kael in her 1971 essay “Raising Kane.” In this essay, she shared her idea that narcissist Orson Welles forced Mankiewicz to make him the primary author of American. Although the essay is now discredited by some for being biased and seemingly written in some kind of a grudge against Welles, her points have been widely accepted and nowadays are generally the more popular opinion.
It has to be said that Gary Oldman is on form as always as the troubled writer, as are supporting cast members Amanda Seyfried, Arliss Howard and Lily Collins. Gary Oldman also produces alongside Douglas Urbanski, who has frequently worked alongside Oldman since his directorial debut Nil By Mouth. Fincher too is on top form, as always, in the director’s chair, and of course in the VFX room. For those who don’t know, David Fincher is a very big fan of pumping his films full of digital effects (the social network is reported to have used more digital effects than the latest Godzilla movie).
Mank meticulously recreates depression-era Hollywood, much like what we recently saw in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time…..In Hollywood, which was set in 1969. Some fans may also notice the odd visual homage to Citizen Kane thrown in there.
Finally, I’d recommend that anyone planning on watching Mank reads up a bit on the story before or after watching it but more importantly, watch Citizen Kane! Not only is it one of the most important, influential films ever made but it’s also relevant to the Trump era and has one of the greatest endings of all time.
I’m rating Mank 3.5 stars – it’s no Kane, but it’s certainly worth watching.